The earliest known evidence of horseracing in Britain is dated to the Roman times around the second and third century A.D. There was most likely horse races thousands of years before that. Even after the age of the Romans, horseracing remained a popular pastime enjoyed by the likes of Kings and nobles, to even the peasantry.
Racing during that time was done upright, that is where the rider sat straight up on their horse without any equipment or rests for their feet.
While we may see this as primitive, and particularly unpleasant for the rider, this was the major style of riding for centuries in Britain. That is until the late 1800s when one American would change everything.
Tod Sloan was born the 10th of August 1874 in Bunker Hill, Indiana. Noted for being frail as a child, after the passing of his mother Tod found himself in the care of another family. Despite his small statue, he soon began to work odd jobs in the local oil and gas fields before ending up training horses. He was recommended to become a jockey, and by 1893 he was racing in California.
Enjoying a string of successes, including the Lawrence Realization Stakes, Tod decided to hop across the pond and challenge British racers and their horses. With backing from Charles F. Dwyer, Tod began to race in 1897-1898. His methods were, at the time, unconventional. He used stirrups, whereas most riders let their legs loose. He also held close to his horse in a crouched position, which was humorously dubbed “The Monkey Crouch”.Despite this light mockery, Tod proved himself a capable jockey. At first, he won five winning horses at Newmarket, which raised some eyes. In 1899, he won the 1,000 Guineas, which began to turn heads. It wasn’t until the turn of the century when Tod became a household name on both sides on the pond. Riding Merman, Tod won the 1900 Ascot Gold Cup hosted at Ascot Downs which he had competed in previously but lost after his horse had a tragic accident.
How The Monkey Crouch came To Revolutionise Horseracing
Thanks to his success at Ascot, as well as his lavish and flamboyant lifestyle, Tod became an international celebrity within the sport. His competitors, having lost to this American and his strange way of riding, soon began to mimic this style. After all, if this 2monkey crouch” which is called “forward seat riding” worked for him, why not them?
Thankfully, they were onto something. The edition of stirrups for racing horses, mixed with the forward crouching hold, meant horses could run faster than they were before. When riding upright, the riders would bounce around, meaning they had to use more effort to concentrate on not falling off while their movements restrained their horses from riding faster.
With the monkey crouch, the rider is much more secure and less likely to fall off his or her horse. The stirrups also stop their feet from swinging, which added extra drag to both rider and horse. The forward position of holding onto the mane of the horse also reduced drag and produced a better weight distribution. For the horse, this means excess energy normally spent keeping the rider on could now be used for racing.
In short, as biologist Lawrence Rome explained, the horse is essentially running with a backpack when the rider is in the monkey crouch position. A rather humorous way to look at it, but tests conducted in the 1990s did show that horses with jockeys in the monkey crouch acted like we do with a heavy backpack.
The effects of Tod Sloan and his revolutionary method of clinging to his horse had changed the sport forever, and for the best. Riders and their horses are much safer, and the heartbeat of jockeys during races are noticeably lower than if they were riding upright. Horses can run much faster, and racecourses could be lengthened to adjust for much faster horses.
Modern horseracing owes a lot to Tod Sloan, the small man from across the pond whose ingenious idea of riding forward provided one of the biggest improvements to the sport in all of its history.
Photo Source: https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/news/2009/07/100.shtml)